Archive for the ‘Biopic’ Category
Posted by christopher on May 23, 2011
Runtime: 146 minutes
Plot: The life and times of a mobster.
To be a Goodfella, that’s the life, you’ve got it made. Money, respect, women, drinking, gambling, you’re a part of a family. It’s all that Henry wanted growing up. Forget the middle class, average, monotonous lifestyle, sitting behind a desk writing reviews for your blog. That’s not for Henry, there’s no risk, no adventure, no fun. It’s a grind in the start, being a grunt, a gopher; but if you show respect and don’t fuck up, you’ll get yours, Henry sure did.
I had not had the pleasure of viewing this movie prior to this point. I was aware of it but it had only recently struck me that, as an indisputable classic, I should probably give it a whirl. What struck me right away was how much I had missed not seeing Goodfellas earlier. It’s been parodied and redone but only now can I truly reflect and appreciate what an influence it was on media and our culture. What also struck me was the timeliness of the film. Viewing it on Blu-ray I’m sure it was in some way digitally enhanced, and while not a taxing film visually, it could just as easily been created today as it was in 1990. Also to this point was the surprising applicability in light of the “Jersey” movement, where the film highlighted the women’s lavish but incredibly tacky lifestyle choices from their homes, pets, clothing, and makeup. Same too with the men, all named “Pauly something something.” Same as it ever was.
The topical influence is rather apparent but the directorial influence deserves incredible credit as well. It goes without saying that Scoresese is an incredible filmmaker, and it’s telling in the shots that have been mimicked many times now. I’m thinking specifically of a scene where Henry is first taking Karen out on a date to the club. They skip the line and enter through the backdoor/kitchen. The one shot follows Henry and Karen through the halls and kitchen, eventually leading them to their table, capturing every interaction along the way no matter how subtle. It serves to establish Henry’s character for one as a strong, respected member of the family without cutting for even a moment to switch scenes. Scorsese pulls a similar move in introducing the family in the beginning; a one shot again from a first person perspective.
One piece of the film that initially captivated but eventually drew me out was the narration. I quickly became drawn into the film and into Henry’s character as Ray Liotta led the story. He has a great voice, one that always imparted a bit of youthfulness and innocence in spite of his actions. Unfortunately the film switches with Karen narrating for a short while. This would have been wonderful had the film continued to switch, with new characters taking the lead, discussing their thoughts and the current actions in relation to Henry; it did not, however. Henry, in stead, picks the narration back up which frankly just left me confused in hind sight. In the grand scheme, given Karen’s role, I’m not sure why she led the story for a short while.
The performances, across the board, were quite spectacular. De Niro and Pesci particularly. They not only embodied the mobster personality but both added lightness to the story. As much comic relief as was necessary, often times quickly countered by extreme violence, intensity, and often psychopathy, which in and of itself was fun and entertaining.
Beyond the narration, I found the story dragged. There was a point of transition, after which point it just repeated itself. It all eventually served into the climax but could have been cut into a tighter story.
Still, in my humble opinion, Goodfellas is a made movie.
Posted by robert on May 9, 2011
Runtime: 134 minutes
Plot: Freed after 27 years in prision, newly elected President of South Africa Nelson Mandela urges the nation’s rugby team towards victory and his country towards reconciliation during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
The profound poignancy of the real story of Nelson Mandela and the quest for racial reconciliation in South Africa is sufficient to excuse the over-the-top cheesiness that occasionally surfaces in Invictus. Let’s hope that the movie that truly captures that epic story has not yet been made, but if it takes a Matt Damon sports themed vehicle to expose new generations to the all too recent history of apartheid South Africa, so be it.
Playing team captain Francois Pienaar, Damon is more believable as a rugby player than a South African, but his accent is close enough not to be distracting. Morgan Freeman lives up to the expectations that had long cast him as “born to play” Mandela. The rugby story, the window into the greater drama of injustice and redemption, often seems like an overreaching fairy tale, but in fact stays true to the outcomes of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The film has a couple of moments of melodrama that seem a bit like cheap shots, and absent much reference to the broader context, Mandela appears obsessed with rugby to the exclusion of other presidential concerns.
Reconciliation among black and white members of Mandela’s security detail, Mandela’s insistence on retaining the apartheid-era name of the national rugby team, and Pienaar’s visit to Mandela’s jail cell are among the elements that prompt the viewer’s wonderment and ultimately awe, at the transformative influence of a man with the humility to use his power for forgiveness and reconciliation rather than vengeance of one of the great injustices of the twentieth century.
All this adds up to a compelling story and a heart-warming film, even if it only leaves you wanting to know more about Nelson Mandela and the story of post-apartheid South Africa.
Posted by christopher on April 13, 2011
Runtime: 94 minutes
Plot: If you don’t know what this movie is about you’ve probably had your arm stuck under a rock.
As the movie goes so shall my commentary. There is really little need for any introduction, back story, or general warming notes to get into the meat of things.
127 Hours is unquestionably a good watch for the story of Aaron Ralston, directing by Danny Boyle, and performance by James Franco. It is entertaining, emotional, and though provoking. It is complicated in and of itself too. As my leading points indicate, pretty much everyone going into the movie knows the overarching story and the ending–in case you don’t, Aaron gets his arm stuck and has to hack it off to escape alive, all of which occurs over 127 hours. So the question and challenge becomes how to make things interesting. I found this was achieved in two ways.
First, the story arc is given the necessary underpinnings of Aaron the person, a somewhat selfish, thrill seeking, engineer-minded individual. These elements are weaved throughout the film, adding context and making sense of how Aaron got himself into being stuck and how he eventually got himself out. These elements also serve as a critical means of breaking up the monotony of you the viewer being stuck looking at Aaron’s face for the majority of the film. The flashbacks also more complexly bring you mentally out of the frame to a new place where Aaron is not stuck. By pulling you out and then pushing back in you keep from becoming completely immunized to what’s going on, fulling appreciating the degradation and desperation of the situation. And fundamentally it just helps keep things moving.
The second challenge and conquering of the challenge is with the photography. Because of the situation, there is little variety in what is actually being shown on the screen. It forces relatively tight but largely similar views. Boyle and his team took this challenge and dialed it up, getting incredibly tight on Franco and the situation but keeping it true to that form throughout even when not necessary. I found this captivating in that it puts a laser focus on one thing be it an object or action or emotion. This I think brings the viewer close to what is going on or what has happened or what is going to happen; the thoughts and emotions of Aaron himself. The same thoughts we all have after doing something stupid or wrong, processing all the events leading up and opportunities missed that could have prevented where you find yourself, or longing for that one thing that would make everything better or at least bearable.
Franco gave quite a fantastic performance. He is responsible for the emotional impact of the hand-stuck-in-rock problem, and develops the character of Aaron from adventurous to instinctive to resourceful to loving.
While I enjoyed the film and found it successful in the major elements of movies, it still lacks that certain something to turn it from good to great. As I think through why, I’m really only left with the lack of delivering something unexpected. Because it is based on a “story of the week” that I can even remember seeing on the morning news, I’m more or less satisfied from the onset. There’s a bit of curiosity just to see it end-to-end, and as I commented earlier the film delves into character elements of Aaron to add a layer of complexity, however there’s no real need to revisit this ever again. The little curiosity is now gone. The experience was pleasant but not pleasantly surprising the evokes the strong love we all end of developing for other movies.
So, see it, enjoy it, don’t buy it.
The Last Station
Posted by will on January 26, 2011
Runtime: 112 minutes
Plot: The Countess Sofya, wife and muse to Leo Tolstoy, uses every trick of seduction on her husband’s loyal disciple, whom she believes was the person responsible for Tolstoy signing a new will that leaves his work and property to the Russian people.
Leo, or Lyev, Tolstoy, literary giant, leader amongst mere mortals, is probably best known for his works of realist fiction, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, neither of which I am familiar with nor, obviously, have taken the time to read. The faintest thing I know about Tolstoy’s masterpieces are that War and Peace is often symbolized as something rather long and monotonous and that they made a movie of Anna Karenina sometime in the late 90’s.
About Mr. Tolstoy I know little aside that he was a Russian pacifist and Christian anarchist. Apparently, his words would later have profound impacts on both Gandhi and MLK.
So, I came into the movie with an open mind, knowing that most cinematic portrayals are normally less than accurate, to see what The Last Station had to offer.
The film actually is centered around Valentin Bulgakov, a newly appointed private secretary to Tolstoy. There are a lot of small nuanced points and subplots to the actual primary tale but the story primarily follows the tug-of-war between Count Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya Tolstaya, and Tolstoy’s most devoted disciple and leader of the Tolstoyan movement, Vladimir Chertkov, over the signing of a new will. Bulgakov is caught in the middle and, is often times, left to mediate between the two sides. The most intriguing parts of this battle is the friction caused by Tolstoy’s idealistic principles (and thus, his resulting following) as opposed to Countess Sofya’s traditional and aristocratic views.
While there was much drama to be had over the course of the movie, I fail to find the purpose to make a movie about it (aside from the obvious “Let’s make a Tolstoy biopic” excuse). In the end, all of the sweat and tears shed over the new will seems pretty trivial. While this is certainly a key moment in Tolstoy and the Countess’ life, it is no more grandiose than your common everyday family drama and conflict you can find anywhere in the world. While there are certainly movies that carry the same themes, this vehicle seemed pretty petty and unimportant. Perhaps because I have no basic appreciation for Tolstoy do I find his final days pretty much “Whatever, dude”.
Another point of contention was the pace. I have noticed many of the movies I’ve reviewed recently I have complained about how much the movie dragged. I think there is something to be said about appropriate character development, movements within the story, and the fact I have been watching, almost exclusively, television series where a plot lasts normally in the 20 minute range. That all being said, there was a lot of overkill in the primary plots but little development in the subplots that ran throughout. Unfortunately, I would have liked to have seen less time spent on the meat and little bit more finesse to the secondary stories. Because of this, I felt like there was incomplete character development, especially in Bulgakov.
The strongest parts of the movies were the performances by the leads. James McAvoy turns in a solid performance as Valentin-in-the-Middle to the rock and sock’em Russians (Helen Mirren’s Countess Sofya and Paul Giamatti’s Chertkov). Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music) is your Tolstoy, the apparent contemporary to writers with long white beards (I’m looking at you Walt Whitman). While the acting was solid and plausible to the characters it still felt like treading water to reach a conclusion I ended up not caring about.
Posted by benjamin on December 31, 2010
Runtime: 115 minutes
Plot: Life story of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward and his trainer brother Dick Eklund, chronicling the brothers’ early days on the rough streets of Lowell, Massachusetts. — Yahoo! Movies
If you are a fan of Christian Bale, get to your local theater now to see his amazing transformation into Dicky Eklund. A friend stated after the movie that it took him more than 3 minutes into the movie to realize that it was Christian Bale who was talking to the camera. It only takes seconds for the audience to believe they are seeing Dicky Eklund and that type of immersion into a character is always thrilling to see. I would call his portrayal Oscar worthy and simply phenomenal to watch.
The Fighter doesn’t just end the talents with Bale. Everyone else is amazing as well. Granted Mark Wahlberg, as usual, leaves you wanting more from him and his character. Even with the closing credits showing the real Mickey Ward, Wahlberg’s portrayal was more Mark and less Mickey. He matched the mannerisms and “silence” of the man he was portraying, but overall it just felt bland. Amy Adams shined as well as Mickey’s mom, played by Melissa Leo.
Besides the acting, the visual vision of the director played well to the overall movement of the story. David O. Russell and his staff chose to go with a “documentary” style look of the film. This allowed at times for the actors to play directly to the camera. It also helped to solidify the realism of the “based on a true story” tagline.
Overall, The Fighter has it all. Humor. Drama. Action. I thought I would enjoy this movie but I don’t think I went into the movie believing that I would enjoy it as much as I did. If asked, I would state that The Fighter is one of my favorite movies of 2010.